12 August 2008

Forest Hill Society response to the Forest Hill Pools Consultation

Below is the full text of the submission from the Forest Hill Society on the pools consultation. We understand that this may not fully represent the views of every single member of the Forest Hill Society or of the wider community but it is the considered opinions of a number of residents who have been involved in understanding the council's plans, and with experience as architects, developers of conservation schemes, health professionals, active swimmers, and parents, and we have listened to many views from local residents to make sure that we do represent a significant section of local residents.

The Forest Hill Society welcomes London Borough of Lewisham’s commitment to swimming in Forest Hill, and the promise of “no demolition without consultation”. Whilst we welcome the three options presented as part of the consultation, we have some reservations about the options offered and consultation process so far.

Facilities

As the Forest Hill Society we believe that an improved leisure facility on the site of the pools and Louise House is vital to the continued success of Forest Hill as a town centre. These facilities will attract people to the area and they will use other local facilities such as the shops and library at the same time.

We have collated feedback from local residents and have already passed on some of the best ideas to the council through the stakeholders’ meetings.

The most important requirements are:

  1. The need for two pools – a main pool and a learner pool.
  2. We think that a strong connection between the library and the leisure centre is really important and envisage an overlap of courses between the two buildings enhancing the offering from both.

Other considerations:

  1. The learner pool could have a moveable floor to make it suitable for children of different ages and for hydrotherapy. According to the architects present at the station display this would not add significantly to the overall cost of the project (the figure of £100,000 was quoted).
  2. The community area should include a regular shaped space for use as a large meeting hall (for up to 150 people), but more often can be divided into 2 or 3 rooms which can be used for education or for sport or community groups.
  3. Innovative sporting facilities would help make the facility popular and well used e.g. a climbing wall and possibly boulders for non-supervised climbing outside the leisure centre.
  4. We think that a strong connection between the library and the leisure centre is really important and envisage an overlap of courses between the two buildings enhancing the offering from both.
  5. More retail units are not required when there are already many unoccupied retail units in the centre of Forest Hill.
  6. A cafe is a good idea and should overlook the pool, with easy access for parents to move between the cafe and the changing area to assist their children.
  7. Parking needs careful consideration, especially if there is to be additional housing on the site. We would not want to see a CPZ imposed on Derby Hill, Thorpewood Avenue, and Derby Hill Crescent, but there would need to be controls over car use for any residents of the properties on the site. With recent developments in Forest Hill there does not seem to be a way to implement car-free developments without the imposition of CPZ on all local streets. Lewisham council needs to look at other ways to ensure car-free developments for the life of these properties.

Design & Layout

We have been disappointed with the three designs presented which are fundamentally the same building with different levels of housing. Of particular concern were the following aspects of the design:

  1. The entrance of the leisure centre in all options is on the north side of the development making the public area and entrance north facing with little direct sunlight, but more importantly it is at the furthest point from the library, ‘turning it’s back to the library’ as some have put it.
  2. The link between the leisure centre and library looks like an afterthought rather than properly connecting the main part of the leisure complex to the library, although if a link at the library floor level could be made to work this could be very successful.
  3. We would prefer a building that is designed in sympathy with the library with a coherent frontage rather than showing disregard for a fine grade 2 listed building. The design of the centre needs to be improved to compliment the library rather than as a blank modern building to ‘avoid diverting attention from the library’ – something that option 3 certainly fails to do. The Horniman Museum extension is an excellent local example of how a modern building can be integrated into an existed listed building in a coherent way.
  4. We understand that there is a target of between 35% and 50% social housing on the site. Given that any profits from developing houses on the site will go directly into a community facility we believe that social housing should be minimised. That is not to say that there should be no social housing, but that a maximum of 20% would be more appropriate to allow for the best possible leisure development on the site. We are aware that Lewisham Council wish to see 35% social housing in developments of this size, but given the community benefit of profits going directly into the leisure centre it would make sense to adjust this target in this specific case.

Problems with specific options:

  1. In Option 3 the seven story development is out of character with the streetscape of Dartmouth Road.
  2. The high rise (7 storey) housing is too close to the road, built over the pavement and completely out of proportion to the other side of Dartmouth Road. This results in a strong physical separation between the part of Forest Hill with the pool to the north and the part of Forest Hill with the library to the south.
  3. The isolated unit in option 2 for retail and possibly for housing does not fit well with the overall layout of the area and breaks up the public space
  4. We are not happy with the scale or location of the housing along the frontage of option 3 and think that this needs serious reconsideration with alternative arrangements and locations explored e.g. along the back of pools building or around the square. There is plenty of room for extra housing to be built above the changing area and car park to the rear of the leisure centre. There are already large trees to the rear of the houses on Derby Hill Crescent that would prevent overlooking from this position. Access could be from the rear of the public space (possibly the same access as the flats aligned with Kingswear House). This is just one solution and we are sure that there are others that could be explored but have not been as part of this consultation.
  5. Further housing may be possible above the garages to the rear of the site on Torcross Drive. By redeveloping these garages to providing some residential areas above the garage facilities, less residential development would be needed at the front of the site.
  6. The loss on the pocket park is not a significant loss to Forest Hill with Baxter’s Field not far from the site and the new public space created on this site.

We hope that prior to awarding the contract for building the leisure centre other design options are considered, ideally opening up the process to a design competition. We understand that these designs were put together primarily to give an idea of bulk and massing and residential unit numbers, but they fail to show how different layouts for the site have been tested. We could easily be stuck with a sub-standard design for decades to come if the process now proceeds too quickly and without careful thought and proper consideration of what is possible, including allowing the architects selected through the OJEU process the opportunity to bring their creative design skills to the project.

Options and Bulk

From the three options presented by the council we believe that option 1 is not right as it does not include a learner pool. Options 2 and 3 both provide a better facility and although we are keen to maximise the leisure and community facilities available on this site, we do not believe that the housing set out in option 3 is the best way to achieve this.

Consultation Process

We have been disappointed with the consultation process for a number of reasons and we do not believe the council have engaged properly with the local community in regard to this development. This beginning sets a bad precedent as we move forward to the implementation phase.

Amongst our concerns are:

  1. Lack of different designs available for public consultation.
  2. The consultation has been open to people from across the borough, starting off in Catford, rather than focusing on the residents of Forest Hill.
  3. Leaflets that were delivered to local residents were delivered too close to the beginning of the consultation and were simple white A4 sheets. In the 2005/2006 consultation the consultation document itself was delivered to every house, this should have been done again to get maximum feedback. Instead residents have to go to the library to pick up a leaflet or have access to the Internet for the online consultation.
  4. The display in the library and the presentation of the three options in the consultation document significantly simplified the options and did not provide the full details that were in the full documentation that was available on the website. Copies of the full consultation document and historical report should have been available in the library to allow visitors to see the full context of the consultation.
  5. Despite a feasibility study being undertaken to determine if Louise House and the Superintendent’s House could be saved and incorporated into a new development, no designs have been produced to show if a leisure centre could have been fitted in with this development. Many local residents naturally feel angry that this was not presented as an option after the feasibility study was undertaken and concluded that these building could be converted into housing for a small profit.
  6. The consultation process took place during school holidays, when many children and parents are away. This will affect the results of the consultation and exclude many of the key users of the pools.
  7. A public meeting should have been organised where local residents could have an opportunity to discuss the plans with the council officers and hear the views of other local residents.
  8. There has been a lack of clarity for local residents regarding what the consultation is about – housing and leisure facilities or design of buildings and layout. By confusing these two issues it is difficult for the public to know how to respond.
  9. We would like to see all the responses to the consultation to get a better idea of the views of local residents before the report goes to mayor and cabinet, so that we can satisfy ourselves that council officers accurately represent the views of local people from this consultation.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent representation of views in my opinion.

No mention, however, of the Glebe land status of the site...

Anonymous said...

worded very well, and i do share many of these views. HLM architects have done a terrible job, and there should be ashamed of it, they are a large firm and they simply should know better practice.

the council have been rapidly building a lack of trust in them, in the ability to logically and successfully develop FH pools. there is a general disregard by them (not just the wishes of the community) of general good practice. i for one live on derby hill crescent and have not, received any information regarding the consultation from the council not even an a4 leaflet.

the council need to be aware that the consultation is completely flawed and (to the best of my knowledge) can be stopped on this basis.

graysinner said...

The loss of the pocket park would indeed be no loss to Forest Hill but are you suggesting that the open air drinkers-for want of a better description-should re-locate to Baxters Field.I am sure that the locals would love for that to happen.Mid you there is an off licence come super market in Kirkdale.